Holm Center launches ‘Under the Wings’ Junior ROTC cadet mentorship program

  • Published
  • By Christian P. Hodge
  • Air Force Junior ROTC Public Affairs

The Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development has formally launched a new mentorship program that will link Airmen, Guardians, Guardsman and Reservists with Air Force and Space Force Junior ROTC cadets in high schools at their units across the nation and some places abroad. May 15, 2023.

The Under the Wings Mentorship Program, enacted on May 15, 2023, traces its beginnings to September 2020 during the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a one-of-a-kind mentorship endeavor that develops Airmen and Guardians and JROTC cadet “Citizens of Character” through community service and work-based learning, according to the program’s handbook.

"Our nation's youth are eager to learn about the values of citizenship that make America strong.  What better mentors could we ask for than Airmen and Guardians who are willing to share their experiences in the service of our nation,” said Col. Johnny McGonigal, Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC director. "Under the Wings gives Airmen and Guardians an opportunity to inspire our next generation of citizens and leaders ... they will have a meaningful impact on the future of our country."

Under the Wings, or UTW, also creates a virtual or in-person mentoring tool for Air Force JROTC and Space Force JROTC instructors to utilize year-round, which affords them a volunteer service member that cadets can relate to, but more importantly, look up to.

"Under the Wings provides an exceptional opportunity for Air Force and Space Force JROTC cadets to interact with Airmen and Guardians who are performing missions they learn about in the classroom,” said McGonigal. 

Volunteer mentors in many cases will be providing presentations about their jobs and a slice of the military to cadets in coordination with the units’ officer and senior enlisted aerospace science instructors, who are retired service members. The UTW staff will also review and approve the presentations, which can be in-person or virtual.

“We all have someone that we look up to, regardless of the position and rank. My role model has allowed me to increase my desire for success and stay accountable to the things that make me be a better person and member of the profession of arms,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gilda M. Alexander, Holm Center command chief and a driving force behind UTW. “It would be difficult to achieve those things without the guidance and support of a mentor.” 

Regardless of a person’s profession, Alexander thinks all should seek mentorship, and UTW provides this opportunity to the future of the nation. She feels the program provides an endless opportunity to be part of the development and mentorship of the future leaders of this country.

“I think Under the Wings is only in the beginning stages and will soon evolve into a diverse and far-reaching mentorship program,” she said.

The creator of UTW could not agree more.

“The role models I have had have helped me set goals for myself and in a way, have provided me with competition. I have always strived to be better than my best mentors,” said program architect Staff Sgt. Nicolas J. Koerber, senior emergency actions controller, 325th Fighter Wing Command Post, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. “For me, the success of Under the Wings will be determined by one goal having been met: If a cadet has listened to a mentor’s story and thinks to themselves, ‘I can do it better,’ then all the work that has been put into this program is worth it.”

Koerber credits his experience as a JROTC cadet with the reason he had the idea for Under the Wings in September 2020.

“As a JROTC alumni, I understand the need. Not only does the program allow for invaluable mentorship to take place, it inches us toward a total force and gives today’s cadets a brand new, one-of-a-kind opportunity,” he said. “Mentoring will help Airmen and Guardians discover their strengths and establish goals to achieve their full potential through a structured, trusting mentoring relationship and program.”

Facilitating that trust are safeguards the UTW team has put in place, to include: a prohibited activities form; mentors’ leadership approval, UTW staff approval and AFJROTC instructor approval; practices and procedures set in place by the UTW handbook; and regularly occurring quality assurance.

"Once mentors have been approved for the program by Under the Wings Staff they will be added to a list only accessible by AFJROTC Instructors. Instructors will utilize the list to contact approved mentors and coordinate the time and means the presentation will be conducted," said Koerber.

Mentors participating in Under the Wings will have their presentations reviewed by Under the Wings staff as well as the AFJROTC instructor of the cadets they will be presenting to.

“Our goal has been set – ‘accelerate change or lose.’ Under the Wings is changing how we do mentorship, creating a new platform for development and connectivity,” he said.

Airmen, Guardians, Guardsman and Reservists interested in participating in Under the Wings should talk to their leaders and go to the program webpage to get started. For specific questions email